10 July 2010 | gerold-firl
beautiful/tragic character study
Dodes'ka-den is the monotonous sound of the trolley clickety-clacking down the rails; the mindless drone of a brain damaged or retarded "trolley freak" acting out his repetitive fantasy in the Tokyo city dump where he lives with his long-suffering mother; and, a cinematic masterpiece from Kurosawa.
The film doesn't have a traditional plot, it's a snapshot of the lives of a strange ensemble of characters who live in the dump. (In much of the third world today, municipal dumps are inhabited by poor people who scavenge trash to make their living. It wasn't that long ago that the same was true in the US, by the way. In the late 1800's the NYC dump was home to a population of desperate scavengers too.) Kurosawa does his usual brilliant job of creating a full spectrum of characters, except that here most of them are damaged and dysfunctional. Kurosawa is loved for his portrayals of honor, courage, and heroism. Some find it more difficult to appreciate his unblinking examination of loss, failure, wickedness and despair. This film lays bare some of the dark corners of the human heart, and presents the full spectrum of human reality, warts and all - but with an emphasis on the warts.
It's not a dark film nonetheless. These tragic blighted lives are shown with zen clarity and humor. We see a cross-section of human psychology, both good and bad, and the genius of Kurosawa makes it clear that each of us share the feelings and foibles of these Tokyo dregs.